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Archive for Sunday, May 21, 2006

The name game: Not what it used to be

May 21, 2006

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I am reading the just-released list of the top-10 baby names in America.

According to the Social Security Administration, the most popular girl names of 2005 were Emily, Emma, Madison, Abigail, Olivia, Isabella, Hannah, Samantha, Ava and Ashley.

I like these lists. They're interesting little anthropological snapshots of our culture. Yet I wonder how parents feel when their baby's name makes the cut. Because being in this top 10 doesn't mean you're a standout; it says you're one of the crowd. I hope no one cares too much.

Celebrities care. Hollywood parents go out of their way to avoid one-of-the-crowd names. (This is one top-10 list they don't want to make.) That's why their babies are christened Apple, Suri, Moses or Banjo. Or, my personal favorite, Pilot Inspektor.

And I notice that, once again, there's not one boomer girl name on the list. Not a Debbie or Janet or Marsha or Connie. Nary a Julie, Diane, Mary, Ann or Susan. Not a Barbara, Donna, Carol, Linda or Patty. No Cathy or Kathy anywhere near the top 10.

These were the names that filled my overcrowded, parochial school classrooms in the '60s.

In fact, there were so many Kathy/Cathys in sixth grade that Sister Michael Mary - she of awesome unibrow and hair-trigger temper - tried to reduce confusion by assigning each of us an alias, using our nickname or given saint's name with the last initial.

There were Kathy S. and Kathleen B.; Kathy K. and Kathleen O. And even though I was the only "Cathy with a C" in the room, she assigned me the moniker Catherine J.

And that would have been groovy had Sister been able to pronounce my name in the regal way it was intended, like one would introduce Catherine the Great in Her Majesty's court or Catherine Zeta-Jones at the Oscars.

Unfortunately, she butchered it on a daily basis with the hideous "Cathern." Like "cavern" with a speech impediment. This was a terrible way to be known. And not at all conducive to "The Name Game" song: "Cathern Cathern bo Bathern. Banana fanna fo Fathern..." You can imagine the social fallout.

I was mortified every time she called on me in class. Not because I feared diagramming sentences or reciting the Stations of the Cross. It's just that I knew any girl called "Cathern" could never expect to be kissed by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John or any of the other cute boys in my class. Because even though Catherine meant "pure," being kissed was all I thought about in sixth grade. That, and what to say that was fresh and new in the confessional on Friday morning.

There were multitudes of Deborahs, too, including Debbies, Debs and Debras. And Patricias, Pattys, Pats and Trishas.

When was the last time you met an infant named Debbie? Or Patty? Or, for that matter, Nancy or Marsha?

Does this mean that children in the future will think of Linda, Connie and Sue as funny "old lady names"? Like those foreign-sounding names we associated with hair-netted, cane-wielding grannies back in the day? The Mildreds and Ethels. The hilarious Gladys.

Will little girls playing dress-up in 2018 collapse into fits of laughter, just like we used to chortle over names like Bertha, Edna and Bessie, as they say, "You be Aunt Cathy and I'll be Grandma Julie ... ha, ha, ha!"

Maybe they will. Maybe future generations will laugh at our old-fashioned names. But to those young whippersnappers I say this: Good luck trying to play "The Name Game" with Pilot Inspektor.

Cathy Hamilton is host of "Home & Away" on Sunflower Broadband Channel 6 and a 50-year-old empty-nester. Events recounted here may be embellished, exaggerated or completely made up because she can't remember squat anymore.

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